Author: Redazione Alimenta

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Australia, Milk self-sufficiency in jeopardy

Australian milk season started out with three months of decreasing figures in a row; there is the risk to finish it with a 7-10% decrease (source: Rabobank) reaching the same levels of 2002/2003, when, due to one of the worst droughts in history, the country suffered a 8% reduction in supply. This fail does not actually come as a surprise: we just have to take a look at the producers, some are slipping away and those remaining have to deal with a price decrease.

Milk self-sufficiency in jeopardy?

Taking into account the scope of this season’s decrease, one of the major concerns relates to Australia’s ability to stay self-sufficient with regards to milk and dairy products. At the beginning of the year, the country was a net exporter of milk and dairy products, with the equivalent of around 3.5 billion liters of milk sold on the global market; a market in which this country plays an important role for imports as well: Australia imports the equivalent of around 1 billion liters of liquid milk. Not only that, the country is also an importer for all those products for which local production is not sufficient, such as milk serum, lactose and nutritional products in powder form. Obviously, a decrease in supply will lead to a decrease in exports, and that might force Australia to import more cheese, butter and ingredients in the near future in order to compensate for the lack of milk.

What future scenarios await? Firstly, there must be an improvement in the overall situation for the remaining part of the season to try to contain milk loss, while also taking advantage of positive signals coming from global markets. 2017/2018 should be better and should see a rebound in companies’ profitability.

A collective effort seems to be necessary in order to re-activate a conspicuous growth in milk production. Without an increase in production, Australia will be forced to decrease its efforts on international milk and dairy markets which, on a global level, are growing rapidly and are destined to keep doing so.

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New Zealand sees a rise in areas devoted to sheep milk production

Dairy sheep breeds in New Zealand are gaining more and more interest, as they are increasingly being considered as a valid alternative by zoo-technical companies.

Antara Ag, one of the biggest breeders of milk-producing sheep in the country, operates in Southland; the company recently closed an exclusive supply deal with Blue River Nutrition HK involving 15,000 sheep of Frisone-eastern and Dorset breeds. Southlands indeed offers the best opportunities for milking sheep, due to the presence of a well-established pastoral property.

Antara manufactures sheep milk products for infants destined to export in China, and it is the first New Zealander company doing so.

If we change coordinates and move to the north, we find that North Island is turning into a sort of hub thanks to some 3,000 milk-producing sheep of the Waituhi Kuratau farm just out of Turangi. Here, Landcorp company is making its way into the business, along with SLC Group.

These companies founded Spring Sheep Dairy; the product of their milk-producing sheep is processed at Hamilton’s Innovation Park, and it is used for production of high added-value products such as yoghurt, probiotics, ice cream and protein-based products aimed to the fitness market.

Milk-producing sheep, a growing sector

This is therefore a decidedly growing sector, gaining more and more space in Oceania’s countries – even physically speaking – in terms of land exploitation; however, with a base production of around 33.000 thousand heads, it is still a minor player.

This very sector is still a niche on a global scale as well, although a rapidly growing one: global milk-producing sheep market has an estimated value of around 8 billion USD, equal to 2% of milk-producing cows. On the other hand, growing markets, for the most part composed of Asian consumers, who are getting more and more accustomed to the Western habits and also more and more lactose-intolerant, are showing a growing interest in sheep milk and sheep dairy products.

Meanwhile, companies are betting on sheep milk: Keith Neylon, director of Antra Ag and founder of Blue River Dairy, confirmed that his company is ready to increase the number of milk-producing sheep starting next year.

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President of China visits Sardinia

A short but fruitful stay for President of China in Sardinia last November 16th, for what was supposed to be just a staging area but ended up being a non-official meeting with Italian premier Matteo Renzi.

An informal yet important vis-à-vis between the two political leaders. Chinese president’s presence in Sardinia became a chance to discuss several current political and economics subjects, from new international geo-political scenarios to the commercial relationship between Italy and China, a sign of the significance of bilateral relationships between the countries and also a sign of China’s growing interest in Sardinia and its peculiarities. Chinese and Sardinians are among the world’s longest-living people, and this kind of “genetic’ and not just cultural twinning might be a reason to address those Sardinia-based researches aimed to unveil the secret behind the many centenarians of the island.

Agreements in dairy sector and central role of Alimenta

Many agreements have contributed to develop business relationships between Sardinia and the Asian giant: in the agro-industrial field, a particularly relevant joint venture  has been signed by Alimenta – a company with a productive capacity of 3 million liters a year of sheep milk an 35 million liters of powdered sheep and goat whey a year, exporting 95% of its powdered sheep milk to China – and Blue River Dairy, a company planning to invest over € 40 million in Sardinia over the next decade.

An ambitious mission by Alimenta, ready to invest with the goal to fill Chinese shelves with Sardinian sheep milk-based products for infancy, besides renovating its manufacturing plant. On the other hand, this agreement might revamp and stabilize an important sector for Sardinian economy putting to use sizable quantities of whey and ricotta whey from various cheese factories.

Of course, when talking international agreements, a good logistics organization is paramount, and Sardinia, with Cagliari canal harbor, soon-to-be free-trade zone, with its efficient infrastructure will surely be up to the task.

In conclusion, there are all the requisites for the satisfying and long-term development of profitable relationships.

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Will there be a ‘Trump Effect’ on the global dairy sector?

What are the possible future scenarios for the global dairy sector with the election of the new US President Donald Trump? According to Rabobank’s Global Dairy Strategist Kevin Bellamy, the ‘Trump Effect’ will lead to short-term uncertainty and a possible reduction in consumer confidence, giving a further blow to already weak global demand. But there will also be long-term problems.

Perhaps more interesting and worrying than the short-term market reactions are the long-term issues given that during his election campaign Donald Trump did nothing to hide the fact he does not endorse the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), thereby weakening Europe and favouring the United States and New Zealand in key markets such as Japan.

Due to the fact that protectionist barriers are likely to be erected, the growth rate of trade in dairy products is expected to be positive in the next five years.

Future scenarios regarding the relationship between Trump and Russian leader Vladimir Putin are interesting. A reopening of relations with Russia could mean the end of the trade embargo with the Eurasian giant, which, before the embargo, was the second largest importer of dairy products (at least 440,000 tonnes of cheese in 2013).

What is more, the continuation of EU sanctions against Russia could help the US dairy sector as EU countries were Russia’s main suppliers.

Trade with China

The greatest concern is that trade between the United States and China will worsen. 3.1% of China GDP is at stake (2015 data) if the United States decides to raise the banner of protectionism. The consequences would be disturbing: a decline in dairy market product prices caused by the contraction – and not the slowdown as is happening today – of demand and by a major devaluation of the Chinese currency (CNY) against the dollar. Rabobank estimates that a 10% CNY devaluation could result in a reduction in turnover of approximately 15% for the sector.
All will become clearer in the coming months.

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The milk sector in India: $2 billion by 2020

The milk sector in India will see cart loads of dollars in the near future as investments worth $2 billion are planned at the top end of the supply chain by the year 2020. Growth prospects are very positive due to the growth of added value dairy products. This is a sign of a maturing market which, it must be remembered, is immense (there are a good 1.25 billion inhabitants in India alone, without considering the influence India has on the Indian subcontinent).
Areas of investment

Investments will first and foremost be focused on developing a better quality raw milk supply infrastructure. This will encourage the creation of collection and refrigeration centres, particularly in small towns, resulting in greater product supply control as there will be direct contact with producers. This in turn will contribute to changing the geography of the country’s production. One need only consider that today cooperatives and private processing companies manage 100 million litres per day but by 2020 they will manage 160 million litres daily (Rabobank data).

Let’s return to the development prospects. Growth will mainly be driven by cheese, yoghurt, ice cream, baby food and UHT milk. Added value dairy products are expected to increase their current market share of 21% to 30%, i.e. to a market that will be worth $7 bn from one currently worth $2.5 bn.

Changes will also take place over the next few years with regard to the size of farms – a transformation which is actually already underway. The reason for this positive outlook lies in various factors, first and foremost a growing young population that is increasingly consuming added value and brand name dairy products.

It seems clear that for all those wishing to design a business strategy in order to be a player in this major market it will be fundamental to take the above-mentioned factors into careful consideration.

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The great race for the milk market in Asia

For Australian milk exporters there are big question marks on the horizon regarding maintenance of their market share in the ‘neighbouring’ Chinese and Southeast Asian markets. A real battle is underway for the division of the hugely desirable Asian cake.
This is what has emerged from a report on milk exports in Asia compiled by Rabobank which underlines how strong competition from New Zealand and the European Union, as well as from local dairy producers, will result in a reduction of the market share for Australian exports.
The Rabobank report states that the biggest consumers of milk out of the seven countries mentioned are Singapore and China, with consumption per capita equal to roughly 62 and 38 litres respectively.
Second and third place go to Taiwan and Thailand, separated by 10 litres of consumption per capita, followed by Malaysia and Vietnam with roughly eight and 7.5 litres respectively.
Compared to Australian milk consumption per capita (roughly 105 litres; only very few European countries have a higher milk consumption), these figures give a good idea as to why there is such considerable interest in an area that is demographically very important and currently developing.
Still with reference to the Rabobank report, EU exporters have acquired the largest part of the most important market, the Chinese market, i.e. roughly 60 per cent of the UHT milk market. Behind the Europeans is New Zealand with approximately 20 per cent and, in third place, Australia, with roughly 15 per cent.
Senior analyst of Rabobank in Australia Michael Harvey said that thanks its large and efficient processing plants, Europe is at an advantage in this ‘fight’ for the conquest of the Asian markets. In his view Australia will still be able to compete however.
The Asian market will increasingly have two characteristics: higher volumes but in return for lower profit margins for companies.
According to Harvey there will be countless opportunities, especially in niche markets.  This will only happen, however, if exporters are able to invest in research and development and provide useful proposals in step with consumers’ changing needs, which are set to become increasingly mature.

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Obesity: milk and cheese? They help you lose weight

Do milk and cheese prevent obesity, or rather, are they able to fight it? It would appear so according to a Chinese study carried out by Weijing Wang, Yili Wu and Dongfeng Zhang of the Department of Epidemiology and Health Statistics at the Medical College of Qingdao University.

The study has been published in the journal Annals of Epidemiology under the title “Association of dairy products consumption with risk of obesity in children and adults: a meta-analysis of mainly cross-sectional studies”. Milk and cheese have almost always been accused of being one of the primary causes of increased risk of obesity but – against all odds – they actually appear to be able to fight the increase of fat and help one lose weight. According to the researchers, each cup of milk (roughly 200 grammes) consumed per day reduces the risk of obesity by 16% both in children and adults.

This study of research and analysis was based on previously published data – at least thirty publications about the consumption of milk and dairy products and the risk of obesity. Analysis of the data revealed the unthinkable: in contrast to what has always been thought up till now, cheese does not increase the risk of obesity.

On the other hand, previous studies had already demonstrated how the assumption of calcium in adequate doses is associated with loss of body weight. In Brazil, for example, one study had observed that the amount of calcium consumed with food intake was on average far below the recommended dose. Obese and overweight people were often those who only consumed a small quantity of calcium-rich food.

Why is this? There are basically two explanations to the link between calcium levels and body weight. Firstly, a good intake of calcium can encourage fat to be used for energy through the process of lipolysis and therefore facilitate weight loss; and secondly, an adequate consumption of calcium can restrict the absorption of fatty acids in the intestine, which are expelled from the body in this way in large quantities.

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Cheese export: the forecast for 2015-2020 is rosy although Italy is moving along sluggishly

While the world’s dairy industry is showing signs of growth with cheese exports that are set to increase in value by 2.3% in 2015-2020, in Italy consumption is falling. Cattlesheds are suffering a real crisis. This is what has emerged from a report by Confcooperative (the Confederation of the Italian Cooperatives) based on Euromonitor data.
In 2010-2015 the sale of cheese in Italy fell by almost 6% in volume – from 612,000 tonnes in 2010 to 576,000 in 2015 – and by almost 7% in value – from 6.7 to 6.2 bn euros. Positive performances were only seen from soft fresh cheeses which registered an increase of 6% in volume.
The situation is made less bleak by previously mentioned positive signals arriving from international markets such as China, India and Indonesia – countries with potentially limitless markets – which will see cheese imports increase. In the period in question the following countries are also set to register positive figures: north American countries (2.2%), Eastern Europe (2.5%), Latin America (3.4%) and some countries of the Middle East and the Arabian Peninsula. The growth forecast for western European countries is decidedly more modest – less than a percentage point, i.e. 0.6%.
It emerges from the report that there are good expectations for hard cheeses in the United States, which should see +10% in volume and +15% in value. Figures regarding the cheese market in China are extremely interesting; sales of both hard and soft cheeses planned from 2015-2020 should register an increase in value of 135%. The growth rate for hard cheese is expected to be 139%.
Also in Japan the positive trend of the last five-year period is expected to continue into the next five years, with packaged hard cheeses registering an increase of 13% and soft cheeses one of 12%.
It seems obvious how necessary it is for Italian cheese producers to focus more strongly on exports as in 2015 Italian cheese sales grew by 10% (360,000 tonnes with a turnover of 2.2 bn euros). However, despite the potential of top-quality Italian dairy products, Germany, with 5.1 bn dollars of revenue resulting from cheese exports and a global market share of 15.7%, weighs far more heavily on world exports than Italy, which ‘only’ has 8.7%.

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Lazio nominates Caciotta Romana for PDO certification and wants ‘Sardinian’ Pecorino Romano back

97% of Pecorino Romano PDO is produced in Sardinia in Macomer, the province of Nuoro. However, it seems that on the other side of the Tyrrhenian Sea there is a desire for change and to return production to Lazio – ‘return’ because apparently the production premises was previously in Rome. There is a genuine dispute going on between Sardinia and Lazio; it is likely that the latter, which is strongly requesting the creation of a new PDO mark, will find itself with two.

Let’s look at the figures of the Lazio sheep farming system. The Lazio sheep milk industry consists of 3,000 specialist farms with 750,000 animals and 359 processing companies of which only three, however, can produce Pecorino Romano PDO. These numbers speak for themselves as regards the inferiority of the sheep farming system in Lazio compared to that of Sardinia.

This clash is nothing new however. According to president of Coldiretti Lazio Mr Granieri, the Consortium statement about Pecorino being overproduced in 2016 by 30% has exasperated the situation; in Granieri’s view the figure is just 10%. It is this which allegedly led to the reduction in milk prices penalizing, above all, Lazio.

Lazio’s declared aim is to attribute the Protected Designation of Origin to Caciotta Romana, which has always been part of the ‘basket’ of local products. Meanwhile, in the midst of this clash Coldiretti (the Italian national confederation of independent farmers) has confirmed a 23% increase in the sale of Pecorino in foreign markets. The United States is the main export market with an increase of 28%, and good performance has been seen in the English and French markets with sales of the product growing at a rate of 22% and 16% respectively.

China has registered a considerable sales increase of 500% although it has to be said that there is still a lot more growth potential.

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Sheep milk: Characteristics, unique features and problems of a one-of-a-kind product

Sheep milk means Mediterranean basin, the geographical area in which this food’s history unfolded. A robust milk, ideal for cheese-making, used to make some of world’s most flavorsome cheeses. And Italy is no exception: the nation’s gastronomical tradition sees a sensibly higher incidence of sheep milk dairy products compared to dairy made with buffalo, donkey and goat milk. However, first place is always occupied by cow milk products.

Partly also due to its history, sheep milk to this day is still used especially as raw material for cheese-making, while its consumption as milk is limited to a much narrower, niche user base. This might be one of the reasons why, despite being a complete food, full of health benefits, scientific studies regarding its nutritional composition are not widely available.

Sheep milk VS cow milk

What are the major differences between the two main protagonists, cow milk and sheep milk? If we evaluate sheep milk’s nutritional composition and we compare it to “whole, pasteurized” cow’s milk, most significant differences arise in distribution of lipids, proteins and carbohydrates percentage. Besides, sheep milk has more calories than cow milk (+39 kcal / 100ml) due to a higher fat content (+3,3g / 100ml), protein content (+2g / 100ml) and glucose content (+0,3g / 100ml), in relation to water content. On the other hand, fat content in sheep milk is substantially the same as cow milk.

For what concerns micro-nutrients, we can see that, due to its higher fat content, sheep milk provides a higher dose of retinol (+0,07mg / 100ml) and a higher dose of calcium (+61mg / 100ml).

Therefore, if we take a look at the two foods’ chemical composition, there is a major difference in terms of energy value, which is sensibly higher in sheep milk compared to cow milk and, considering that sheep milk is mainly used for producing hard cheeses, where water percentage drops from 82% all the way down to 30 – 35%, this difference in composition is amplified and translates in a higher nutritional value.
lk sheep and sheep dairy products as functional food?

Milk sheep rhymes with health

Milk sheep and, subsequently, flavorful sheep cheese are among the pillars of Mediterranean diet and are known to prevent not only certain kinds of heart diseases, but also certain specific types of cancer, especially colon cancer and breast cancer. This has been showed years ago, by Professor Mauro Antongiovanni, full professor of Animal Nutrition and Feeding at Zootechnical Science Department of University of Florence, author of a research paper which results had been presented in the United States at the World Meeting of Animal Science and Dairy Science, organized by American Society of Animal Science and American Society of Dairy Science.

The study showed that, by analyzing fat content in milk produced by a herd of Sardinian sheep that had been fed with fresh grass instead of dry forage, it was possible to drastically reduce (40% on average) harmful acids (myristic and palmitic acid) concentration and to likewise increase healthy acids, such as butyric acid (+15%) and especially CLA (conjugated linoleic acid or rumenic acid) of a whopping +500%.

What are these two acids and what is their role? Myristic acid and palmitic acid are saturated fats, some of the worst enemies of our health, because, among other things, they pose a risk factor for hearth and coronary disease. Butyric acid, on the contrary, is a powerful stabilizer of gut’s micro-flora, it prevents colon cancer and acts as anti-diabetic. As for CLA, it is an acid known for its exceptional health benefits: it helps preventing bad cholesterol build-up while promoting good cholesterol, therefore helping with prevention of heart diseases. It also has anti-inflammatory properties and it stimulates immune system with an antitumor function (breast carcinoma, colon cancer).

The above-mentioned research took inspiration from similar studies on cow’s milk, which is still vastly more popular all over the world compared to sheep’s milk, including its dairy derivatives (butter, cheese, yoghurt), and therefore more economically relevant. In fact, sheep milk and sheep cheese are basically niche products or products with limited, ‘marginal’ diffusion, and are mostly consumed in Tuscany, Lazio, Sardinia and, outside of Italy, in Greece (with Feta), and to a limited extent in Spain, Portugal and France. The latter, as a great consumer of goat milk, promotes this product a lot as an alternative to cow milk.

Sheep’s milk: features of a unique product

Let’s analyze in more detail the intrinsic characteristics of sheep’s milk. Let’s start from fat; this component is the most subject to variations during lactation period: right after birth, its levels are quite high, then values go down during the first 50-60 days of lactation, inversely proportional to production. As lactation continues, fat amount can vary greatly, and difference between minimum and maximum values can be as high as 30%; moreover, milk produced by afternoon milking is richer in fat compared to milk produced in the morning. These variations have of course major influence on how milk ‘behaves’ with regards to cheese-making and especially in terms of fats percentage in cheese and yield of cheese factories.

A really interesting study has been conducted by Bologna branch of Istituto Zooprofilattico Sperimentale (Experimental Institute of Veterinary Epidemiology), in collaboration with technicians from Associazioni Provinciali Allevatori (Province Breeders Associations). Researchers took samples of milk from 95 breeding farms of Sardinian and Massese sheep breeds. Here are some results from the analysis: Sardinian breed has fat levels ranging from 6,01% to 8,38%, while Massese breed ranges between 6,52% and 8,23%. Mean value is equal to 7,13%. Other studies found values ranging between 6,20% and 10,60% for Comisana breed and between 6,13% and 7,97% for the Langhe breed.

As for the comparison with cow’s milk we mentioned above, we must highlight that sheep milk contains a higher number of fat globules, but these are smaller and constituted for the most part of medium-chain fatty acids. This makes them easier to digest. As for composition, fats are made up of triglycerides for 98% and phospholipids for 0,8% plus smaller quantities of free fatty acids. Most prominent fatty acids are palmitic and oleic acids (25% and 20%), but we can also find medium-short chain fatty acids like caprinic acid and caprylic acid that are present in higher quantities compared to cow milk and they are responsible for cheese’s pronounced flavor.

Protein content is also subject to variations during lactation, although these variations are smaller than those we can find in fats content. Analyses conducted by Bologna’s Istituto Profilattico showed a general average value for all breeds of 5,91%, with percentages ranging between 5,47% and 6,22% for Sardinian breed and between5,25% and 6,23% for Massese breed.
Data from other studies show protein values ranging between 5,55% and 5,82% for the Comisana breed and ranging between 4,77% and 5,81% for the Langhe breed. In sheep’s milk, ratio of protein and nitrogen-matter is really high (equal to 95%) and indicates a very low content of non-protein nitrogen, with a clear advantage for the cheese’ organic value.

Overall, as lactation continues, milk tend to get richer in casein and soluble proteins, while content of non-protein nitrogen decreases.

Electrophoresis and protein content

Given the main purpose of sheep’s milk, studies regarding composition of various casein fractions are very relevant; besides, thanks to their different electrophoretic mobility (S, S2, beta and K) it is possible to differentiate sheep milk from goat milk and cow milk.

Electrophoresis method is based on differential of electric charges of different protein fractions, which move on dedicated support systems with different speeds: the higher the speed, the greater the electric charge. Analysis of composition shows that S and S2 in sheep milk are lower compared to cow milk, while beta-casein is higher in sheep milk, as an additional proof of this milk’s cheese-making properties. These differences in casein composition are reflected both in the micelle’s structure and in the milk’s behavior in the boiler. In fact, sheep milk takes less time to coagulate and has a thicker texture compared to cow milk. In sheep milk there is a higher percentage of serum proteins and this are involved in Ricotta cheese production.

Fortunately, over the last few years, thanks to a better awareness and maturity in the consumer base, even within huge markets which are crucial to the economic growth of operators and for developing applied research, such as the Chinese market, more and more attention is payed to this product, which is wrongly considered by most as just raw material for its by-product, although we are talking about a first-class by-product such as sheep cheese, a meaningful presence in the nations of the Mediterranean basin with its numerous variants, a kaleidoscope of flavors and knowledge, those of the deepest and most authentic part of the Mediterranean.


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